New format, strong results for this year’s Minnesota Fishing Challenge

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Grady Schutz with the biggest bass of the tournament.

Brainerd, Minn. — The 12th annual Fleet Farm Minnesota Fishing Challenge, which usually takes place with 150 to 200 teams on Gull Lake near Brainerd, had a different look in 2020.

The nearly 300 anglers fishing the multi-species, fundraising fishing tournament, on Saturday, May 30, had great fishing across four states. But rather than a large gathering for a weigh-in, anglers fished their home waters and recorded their catch on a smartphone app. Fish were measured, photographed, and immediately released.

Leading up to the event, anglers raised more than $300,000 to support MN Adult & Teen Challenge drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs statewide. The cumulative amount generated via the tournament since 2009 exceeds $2.5 million. 

Top fundraisers Stu Nelson and Rich Brummer, of Cloquet, set a stout record this year: Their hard work brought in more than $127,000. Many of the teams raised at least $5,000 to support the work done by MNTC.

“This new format was well-received and allowed us to get people on the water despite the restrictions in place due to COVID-19,” said Bernie Barringer, tournament director.

The student angler division was won by Charlie Wright and Carter Hietala, both seniors at Becker High School. They finished in fourth place in the bass division.

The Navillus Land Company Walleye Division produced some big walleyes this year. Several of the top teams were on Mille Lacs, including the winners, Garth Askegaard and Ali Kispert, whose top five fish measured a total of 131.5 inches. 

The Pinnacle Private Wealth Panfish Division (five panfish) was all about crappies this year. The winners, Tony and Steve Ward, fished North Long Lake and found big slabs. Their top five, anchored by a 15-incher, measured a total of a 68.5 inches. 

Lindner Media Bass Division anglers found success on Mille Lacs, too. While some big bags of largemouths were registered from lakes across the state and as far away as Montana, big smallmouth ruled the day. Mark and son Grady Schutz stretched the rulers to 101.5 inches for their top five, including a 21.5-inch jumbo. That fish took home the Worldwide Marine Insurance Big Bass Award.

The Nor-Son Pike Division winners, Brainerd-area anglers Dawn and Donny Hines, blew away the competition by measuring 148 inches for their top five northerns. They fished Gull Lake and led the second-place team by more than 30 inches. 

The McDonald’s Big Walleye Award went to Dan Kurkowski and Aaron Schmidt with a 28.5-incher.

The Beaudry Oil and Propane “Ugliest Fish” Category went to Wright and Hietala, who donned their graduation caps and gowns for a photo their boat with a bigmouth buffalo.  

Each team that raised at least $500 was entered into a drawing for a new Lund boat powered by Mercury and outfitted with Humminbird and MinnKota electronics. The $20,000 rig will be given away June 8. Teams have until June 6 to turn in their funds. Donations are still being accepted. Contact Barringer at (218) 820-8459.

The 2021 fundraising tournament event will be held on Saturday, June 5. For details, go to www.fishingchallenge.org

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